Few dishes encapsulate the soul of Italian cooking quite like Spaghetti with Pomodoro sauce. Simple yet incredibly flavorful, you'd never guess how delicious a sauce made from just five ingredients can be. The keys, of course, are good ingredients combined with solid techniques, and in this week's post, I'm going to show you everything you need to know to make this delightful Pasta Pomodoro recipe in the height of summer.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Using a few varieties of tomatoes captures the spectrum of tomato flavors and tastes.
- By adding basil at different times during the cooking process you're able to infuse this pasta sauce with flavor while still getting the taste of fresh basil.
- The most important thing is to marry the pasta with the sauce and pasta water. This not only infuses the spaghetti with the flavors of the tomatoes, the starchy pasta thickens the sauce while emulsifying the olive oil with the juicy tomatoes.
- Pasta - Spaghetti is a classic choice for pasta al pomodoro, offering a delightfully slippery mouthfeel. I like using spaghetti with a matte surface as it tends to hold onto sauce better than the smooth ones. I also like using thicker spaghetti, but this is just a personal preference. Cappellini, Linguine, and Penne are all great alternatives if you want something different.
- Tomatoes - Pomodoro means "tomato" in Italian, so it's the star of this pasta sauce. Fresh tomatoes bring acidity, sweetness, umami, and a juicy texture. I like using a blend of several varieties of ripe tomatoes to capture the broad spectrum of flavors and tastes. Most pasta sauces can be made with canned tomatoes, but for Pomodoro, I highly recommend using fresh ones in the height of summer.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil - The liquid gold of Italian cuisine, olive oil adds a rich, fruity undertone to the sauce and helps to marry all the other flavors together while adding richness to the sauce.
- Garlic - Garlic cloves add complexity to the fresh, bright flavors of the tomato, enhancing the overall flavor profile. If you're not a garlic person, shallots or chopped onion can be used, although the flavor won't be quite the same.
- Basil - Basil's unique blend of sweetness and spiciness with anise notes brings this Pomodoro Sauce recipe to life. Other fresh herbs such as oregano or thyme will work in a pinch, but they won't taste the same as fresh basil leaves.
How to Make Pomodoro Sauce with Spaghetti
Start by bringing 6 cups of water to a rolling boil in a large pot that's wide enough to accommodate the spaghetti. It may be contrary to common wisdom, but you want to boil the pasta in as little water as possible to create a starchy liquid that's going to help bring the olive oil, Pomodoro Sauce, and spaghetti together in a rich emulsion that clings to each strand of pasta. I use six cups of water with one teaspoon of table salt for this amount of pasta.
Submerge the spaghetti into the boiling water and set your timer for one minute less than the package instructions. This gives you the headroom needed to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce to marry all the ingredients together without making the spaghetti mushy.
To make the Pomodoro Sauce, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or saucepan over medium-high heat. The oil extracts the flavors from our aromatics, infusing them into the sauce, so add the garlic and half of the chopped basil to the pan and saute them until the garlic is fragrant and the basil vibrant green.
Next, add your medley of tomatoes, any collected juices, and half a teaspoon of salt. Crank the heat up and let it come to a full boil. As the pectin in the tomatoes breaks down, they will release their juices, transforming the solid chunks into a velvety sauce. Now, simmer and stir the Pomodoro Sauce over medium-low heat, allowing the flavors to meld together.
When your spaghetti is al dente, use tongs to transfer it directly from the pot to the pan containing your Pomodoro Sauce. Don't drain it—just lift and shift. You'll also want to add a few ladles of the pasta cooking water to the sauce. The starchy pasta water acts as a binding agent, thickening your sauce and facilitating the emulsification of the olive oil and tomato juices. This is the marriage ceremony for your pasta and sauce.
Finish cooking your spaghetti in this matrimony of flavors, adding more pasta water as needed until it reaches your desired level of doneness. To finish your Pasta Pomodoro off, sprinkle in the remaining basil leaves, tossing them into the mix. Saving some of the basil till the end provides a fresh, aromatic punch to the umami-rich Pomodoro sauce.
Pasta Pomodoro can be served with parmesan cheese, Pecorino Romano, or red pepper flakes for a little extra zing.
Serve it With
The beautiful thing about a classic dish like Pasta Pomodoro is its versatility. It can serve as a primi course to a larger meal, a side dish, or a main course. For a multicourse dinner, consider starting with an antipasto platter with Caponata, Green Pea Pesto, prosciutto, and marinated olives. This might be followed up with my Watermelon Salad or my Grilled Endive Salad. Next, serve this Pasta Pomodoro. If you're feeling ambitious, my Ossobuco makes for a delicious meat course or you can serve it with a simple protein like grilled Italian sausage or Garlic Shrimp. You can also use this sauce in place of marinara sauce for my Chicken Parmesan, Eggplant Parmesan, or on a homemade pizza. Finish the meal off with my Creamiest Panna Cotta recipe.
Other Pasta Recipes
Pomodoro Sauce is a classic Italian tomato sauce that embodies the essence of summer. The word "pomodoro" literally means "golden apple" in Italian, which is the name for tomatoes there. Unlike more complex tomato sauces that include a wide range of herbs, meats, and even vegetables, Pomodoro Sauce typically includes only ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, and salt.
Yes, traditional Pomodoro Sauce is naturally vegan! It's made with just a handful of plant-based ingredients: ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, and salt. There are no animal products involved in its basic formulation, making it a great option for vegans and vegetarians alike.
- 270 grams spaghetti
- 450 grams tomatoes (roughly chopped)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 12 grams garlic (minced)
- 20 grams basil (leaves roughly chopped)
- ½ teaspoon salt (plus more for pasta water)
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a wide pot big enough to hold the spaghetti, and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Add 270 grams spaghetti, submerge, and set a timer for 1 minute less than the package directions.
- Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large frying pan over medium-high heat, and add 12 grams garlic and half of 20 grams basil. Saute until the garlic is fragrant and the basil is vibrant green.
- Add 450 grams tomatoes and any collected juices along with ½ teaspoon salt and cook the mixture at a full boil until the chunks of tomato start to break down into a sauce.
- Turn down the heat and let the sauce simmer while you wait for the pasta to finish cooking.
- When the pasta is done, transfer it straight to the pan with the sauce with tongs, and add a few ladles of the pasta water.
- Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, adding more water as needed until it reaches your desired doneness.
- Finish the pasta pomodoro by adding in the remaining basil and tossing to incorporate.